June 3: He Has Gone Before You

“I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.” Luke 22:32

The Lord as its Shepherd goes before His flock. He precedes it every step, not only to map its path, but also to provide for all the circumstances, the most trivial and minute, of its history. To Him nothing can be unforeseen, from Him nothing can be concealed. No event can surprise Him, no contingency can thwart Him, no difficulty can embarrass Him. The entire history of the individual saint of God, from his earliest to his latest breath, is written in His book, when as yet it had no existence, as minutely and as accurately as though it were a record of the past.

In anticipation of each developed circumstance, of each temptation and trial, difficulty and need, Jesus prays for His people “I have prayed.” It would seem as if the sorrow had reached His heart before it touched our own; as if the assault had fallen upon Him before it fell upon us; and that, knowing what would transpire, seeing in what critical and painful circumstances His child would be placed, He anticipates his case by especial intercession on his behalf: “I have prayed for you.”

Can the mind of the tried believer repose upon a truth more sustaining and soothing than this? It had been a glorious unfolding of the love of Jesus, to know that when the sifting came, when faith was actually tried, that then Jesus prayed for the sufferer. But to be assured that before a dart was winged, or a shock was felt, or even a suspicion was awakened that the tempter was approaching, and that danger was near, Jesus, robed in His priestly garments, and bearing the golden censer in His hand, had entered within the veil to make especial intercession for that trial of faith- oh, it is a view of His love, which to the mind of the tempted believer would seem to overtop and outshine all others!

And for what does Jesus pray? That the temptation might not come? that faith may not be tried? Oh no! He does not ask the Father in behalf of His people, for their entire exemption from temptation and trial. Full well does He know that if conformed to Him, their Head, they must through much tribulation enter the kingdom. Pure and sinless though He was, needing no sifting and no refining, He yet passed through each process as if there were in Him the chaff to scatter, and the alloy to consume. How much more needful does Jesus see that His people, in whom there is such an admixture of the precious with the vile, so much indwelling sin, so much powerful corruption perpetually seeking to destroy indwelling grace, should not be exempted from the process which, painful though it be, is absolutely needful and eternally good!

But Jesus prays that in the actual trial of faith it might not fail. Now, why, is it, O believing soul, that your tried faith has not failed? Why, have you passed through the sifting with not one precious grain fallen to the ground? Because your great High Priest prayed for you before the trial, and prayed for you in the trial, and has not ceased to pray for you since the trial. All upholding grace, all restraining grace, all restoring grace, all establishing grace, has been meted out to you through the channel of your Lord’s perpetual and ever-prevalent intercession.

Oh, how should this truth endear the Savior to your heart! With what holy contrition should it fill your spirit, and with what sweet affection should it constrain your soul to a simple and an unreserved surrender to God!

Thy Rod & Thy Staff: The Rod As Disciplinary Agent (7 of 7)

Nor would we omit the employment of the “Rod” as a disciplinary agent in the hands of our Divine Shepherd. This symbol is frequently used as illustrating the afflictive dispensations through which God’s people pass. “Hear the rod, and He who has appointed it.” The rod of Divine discipline is not less essential to the completeness of our Christian character, and thus our fitness for heaven, than any other use in which the Lord employs it. The reference in God’s word to this is striking and instructive. “If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him,” says God, “with the ROD of men.”

Listen to the words of the sorely afflicted patriarch- “Let Him take His ROD away from me, and let not His fear terrify me.” How necessary this “Rod” of reproof, judgment, and restraint, by which the Church of God is disciplined! It is fearful to contemplate the result of its absence! Dissever a timely and wholesome exercise of discipline from a church-or a nation- or a school- or a family, and how soon would lawlessness, anarchy, and ruin ensue!

And thus, exempt the Church of God- collectively and individually- from the discipline of Christ- let Him extinguish the furnace, and suspend the flail, and lay aside the knife, and what would be the result? The dross would then hide the gold- the chaff would spoil the wheat- the sucker would ruin the vine- and incalculable would be our soul’s loss!

Thy Rod & Thy Staff : The Rod Of Restraint (6 of 7)

Nor must we overlook the restraining use of Christ’s Rod and Staff. The restraints of Christ’s grace are not less conspicuous in the believer’s experience than the constraints of His love. There is a strong tendency in us to go before the Lord, rather than follow His leading hand. We desire to anticipate His will and antedate His way concerning us, rather than in quietness and confidence wait the movement of His guiding rod.

Peter- impulsive and self-reliant, went before the Lord when He asked Jesus to bid him come to Him upon the water. The consequence was, he began to sink; and but for the hand of Christ, the proud waves had whelmed him in their depths. Impetuous and distrustful, we would dictate to God the way by which He should lead, and the means by which He should deliver, and the lessons by which He should instruct, and the discipline by which He should sanctify us. But Jesus, consulting our greatest good, orders otherwise. “When He puts forth His own sheep, He goes before them.”

Oh blessed restraints of Christ! Restraining our rebellious will- our impetuous spirit- our blind zeal- and our erring judgment- Christ interposes His “rod and His staff,” and in a thousand instances keeps us from falling. Significant words of God to David- “I kept you from sinning against Me”! Among your costliest mercies, count the restraints and checks of Christ’s “rod and staff.” We shall never fully know, until we arrive in heaven, in how many instances and ways we were kept by God- from how many a precipice, and from how many a broken bone, and from how many a fatal mistake, the Lord went before to preserve us.

We rebelled, perhaps, at the interference of the “rod”- we murmured at the checks of the “staff”- we felt the sickness sore- the suffering acute- the disappointment bitter- nevertheless, when the mist and the cloud uplifted, revealing the imminent peril to which we had been exposed, we then saw clearly the wisdom and mercy of our God in imposing those divine and salutary restraints, but for which we should blindly and inevitably have wrecked all that was precious to us in this life, and glorious in the life that is to come.

Thy Rod & Thy Staff: Protection For The Flock (5 of 7)

The shepherd’s “Rod” is for protection. It is a weapon of defense with which the flock are shielded from the prowling beasts of prey. There is not a moment that danger is not near, and not a moment that Christ’s Rod is not outstretched in our defense. There is not a being in the vast universe more exposed to assault, nor yet one more divinely and safely kept, than a saint of God. Loved with a love that passes knowledge- redeemed with the precious blood of the Shepherd- and made a temple of God through the Spirit, is it possible that he can ever perish?

Listen to the Shepherd’s declaration of this truth- “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Take comfort from this, O my soul! You do often tremble at the prowling beasts of prey, causing the forest to shake with their roar- yet more do you dread the veiled and subtle foe- the sin that dwells in you- ever present, never slumbering, treacherous and strong, and therefore the more dangerous and dreaded, often extorting the cry, “I shall one day perish by my enemy!” Do not be dismayed! Every sheep and lamb of the flock is kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation; and shall be delivered from the mouth of the lion, the paw of the bear, and the fangs of the serpent.

Thy Rod & Thy Staff: Protection For The Flock (5of 7)

The shepherd’s “Rod” is for protection. It is a weapon of defense with which the flock are shielded from the prowling beasts of prey. There is not a moment that danger is not near, and not a moment that Christ’s Rod is not outstretched in our defense. There is not a being in the vast universe more exposed to assault, nor yet one more divinely and safely kept, than a saint of God.

Loved with a love that passes knowledge- redeemed with the precious blood of the Shepherd- and made a temple of God through the Spirit, is it possible that he can ever perish? Listen to the Shepherd’s declaration of this truth- “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Take comfort from this, O my soul!

You do often tremble at the prowling beasts of prey, causing the forest to shake with their roar- yet more do you dread the veiled and subtle foe- the sin that dwells in you- ever present, never slumbering, treacherous and strong, and therefore the more dangerous and dreaded, often extorting the cry, “I shall one day perish by my enemy!” Do not be dismayed! Every sheep and lamb of the flock is kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation; and shall be delivered from the mouth of the lion, the paw of the bear, and the fangs of the serpent.

Thy Rod & Thy Staff: Guidance For The Flock (4 of 7)

By a single wave of his “rod,” by a gentle touch of his crook, the shepherd of the east was wont skillfully and effectually to lead his flock in the way in which they should go. How clearly our Lord appropriates this. “When He puts forth His own sheep, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him.” As one of Christ’s Fold, from the moment you ‘passed under the rod,’ you became an object of His especial guidance and care. Henceforth, “I will guide you with my eye,” is the promise He has made individually yours, and which your faith is to plead. You are passing through an enemy’s country- your path often intricate and perplexing- you see not a step before you, and are often called to descend a valley deeply shaded with dark and trying providences. But you have divine and precious promises- “I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

Blessed Shepherd! I am perplexed to know the path of duty! My way is hedged, and I can’t see a step before me. Show me now Your way that I may know You. Let Your guiding-rod- the word of Your truth, and the eye of Your providence- indicate the way in which I should walk- Your way. And when that way is made plain, give me grace to walk in it; be it the path of service, the most self-denying; of suffering, the most severe; or of loneliness, the most solitary.

Commit yourself, then, unhesitatingly to the guidance of Christ’s rod. He will most assuredly lead you by the best way. He is leading you now in the right path. Clouds and darkness may be round about you; but all is light to Him, in whom is no darkness at all. Around your path the events of Divine providence may be as a complete web, baffling your every effort to unravel; but He ‘knows the way that you take,’ and will guide you through the labyrinth and the maze, bringing you ‘out of a strait place into a broad place, because He delights in you.’ Blessed Shepherd! “You shall guide me with Youe counsel; and afterwards receive me to glory.”

Thy Rod & Thy Staff: The Marking Of The Sheep (2 of 7)

“Your rod and your staff.” The image is pastoral and exquisitely beautiful. There are few objects more picturesque than that of the shepherd and his crook. The ‘rod and the staff’ are essential to the office of the shepherd as to the guidance and protection of the flock. The spiritual and practical significance of the symbol will be obvious to every reflective mind. The first is that of designation. The first and primary use of the shepherd’s rod is that of marking the sheep, by which they are distinguished from all others, and recognized as his own. This is the meaning of God’s word- “I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” And again, “In the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the valley, shall the flocks pass again under the hands of Him that tells them, says the Lord.”

And yet once more, “Concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.” How clear and precious the teaching! Christ’s Church is a chosen flock, distinguished and separate from all others by an act of eternal, sovereign, and most free election. Hence our Lord said- “I am the good Shepherd, and know my sheep.” If a member of Christ’s Fold, you have ‘passed under the rod’ of electing love, and have upon you His own secret and distinguishing mark that you are His. Deny it not!

To that everlasting love- to this election of grace from where it sprang- to your having thus passed under the Shepherd’s rod- you owe all that you are as a child of God, and all that you hope for as an heir of glory. Your views of the doctrine of Election may be misty, and your faith in it hesitating; nevertheless, your crude conception and hesitating belief do not negate the doctrine itself, nor release you from the solemn obligation to believe it humbly, to accept it gratefully, and to live it holily. It is a blessed thought, that the unbelief of the believer cannot invalidate any truth of God, or lessen his obligation to receive it, though it may shade the luster and impair the power of that truth in his personal experience, thus robbing him of its blessing, and God of its glory!

While yet upon this subject, however, let me remind you that a divinely revealed doctrine though Election is, and one of the central truths in the mediatorial scheme, yet the question of your personal election of God is not the truth with which your faith has primarily and mainly to deal. Election is nowhere in the Bible placed before you as an essentialtenet of your faith, but rather as a doctrine which imparts symmetry and consistency to the entire scheme of divine truth- renders lucid and harmonious doctrines otherwise obscure and dissonant- involves the divine glory- and supplies the believer with one of the most potent and influential motives to personal holiness- “According as He has chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”

Salvation recognizes but one Object of faith- the Lord Jesus Christ. You are not called upon to believe that you are one of the Elect; but you are to believe in the Savior, as a sinner saved wholly by God’s free grace, only and entirely through the Lord Jesus Christ, the one Name given under heaven whereby we must be saved. Do not be, then, troubled in your mind touching your election; it is one of the secret things of God with which He alone has to do. The revealed thing is, the absolute necessity of faith in Christ, who for your encouragement has declared- “He that believes in me shall be saved.” No longer, then, stumble at this stumbling-stone; divine and revealed though it be- but, be anxious and earnest to know that you are called by grace. This great question once fairly settled, you may remain perfectly composed as to your election of God; for, your “calling made sure,” you have logically and theologically, “made sure your election of God.”

 

Thy Rod & Thy Staff: Introduction (1 of 7)

Today I will be starting a new 7 part exposition series on the beloved Psalm 23:4b “thy rod and thy staff”.

Winslow dealt with this nugget of scripture in a chapter of The Nightingale Song of David entitled The Rod and the Staff. If you would like to read the entire chapter, by all means please do so!

This introductory post will mark the first post in this new series. I hope you are encouraged and built up in your faith!

So let’s get started:

“Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” Psalm 23:4b

When David spoke these words he was, in anticipation, passing down the ‘valley of death,’ his spirit poised upon its wing for heaven. It is befitting and profitable to pause amid the engagements and turmoil of this present life, and forecast the hour and the scene when its business and its probation will close- lost amid the realities and solemnities of the life that knows no ending. He is a wise man who meditates frequently and seriously upon his latter end. Common and certain as death is, alas! it is the last event of our history with which we make ourselves familiar!

Wiser far the heathen monarch who, amid the pomp and splendor of his court- the wine and the music of the banquet- ever and anon bent his ear to catch the warning of the attendant at his side- “Remember, O king, you are mortal!” Less eccentric, and more real, was the mode by which Joseph of Arimathea sought to familiarize his mind with his certain dissolution. In the excavation of a rock, encircled by the flowers and foliage of his garden, he built a tomb for his body- “a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus.”

And as, at eventide, he walked in his garden, and gazing upon its beauty and breathing its fragrance, he would pause before his prepared tomb, and recall the impressive ‘cry’ of the Prophet- “All flesh is grass, and all the goodness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withers, the flower fades.” If, in the sublime language of the Burial Service, “in the midst of life we are in death,” then should the thought, the imagery, and the preparation of death be ever present with our minds.

And we hold that there is nothing inappropriate or incongruous in the idea that, in whatever place or engagement we may be occupied, the prospect of our dissolution should impart a tone to every feeling, a character to every circumstance, and a sanctity to every thought, word, and action of our life. It were no mere fanciful exaggeration of the sentiment were the muffled death knell to blend with the joyous music- the bridal robe to suggest the image of the pale shroud- and the thronged and sumptuous hall, thoughts of the lone and vaulted tomb- for ‘in the midst of life’- the most busy, festive, and hilarious- ‘we are in death.’

We now turn to the Christian’s “Rod and Staff,” -his guidance and support in that eventful and solemn hour.